Festive Flavors: How to Create Healthy, Satisfying Dishes this Holiday Season

How to Create Healthy, Satisfying Dishes this Holiday Season

Nothing says “happy holidays” like sharing a homemade dish with your friends and family. When you decide to make something in your own kitchen, there are personal touches being shared you might not even be aware of. Sure, you might think you’re sending the simple “I love to cook and bake” message, but it’s more than that — you’re telling everyone at the table who you are and how you view food.

The holidays are also a time to relax and enjoy the company of people around you. Although it’s perfectly normal to be self-conscious about overindulging — and it’s easy to do during seasonal festivities — you shouldn’t get so caught up in making healthy choices that you forgo sitting in the dining room with your aunts and uncles because the desserts are too tempting.

I have been cooking for over 14 years, and I have hosted many gatherings and brought many dishes to other people’s homes. After a while, I noticed some things. If I buy high-quality ingredients, the food simply tastes better. Secondly, if I balance flavors of sweet, sour, salty, fatty and savory just right, the dish is much more satisfying, and it’s less likely anyone will need seconds.

When you use fresh, high-quality and locally sourced (when possible) ingredients, the nutritional content automatically increases. When flavors are balanced, everyone enjoys the meal so much more. And of course when you lovingly prepare a dish for others and your intention for them to enjoy it shines through, friends and family will notice the special touch. Home cooking is a way to show love — a way to nurture someone’s belly and soul, including your own.


How Balance Curbs Overeating

What keeps us from overeating and feeling satisfied instead? You’ve heard everything in moderation is OK, but how exactly does that work? Start by thinking about your complete day of food. When you deprive yourself of some healthy fat in the morning, it’s harder to control your ice cream portions at night. That means a little healthy fat should be welcomed in your day to avoid overindulging later.

If the holiday meal is prepared with high-quality ingredients, the flavors are balanced and thoughtful and you fill your plate with a variety of nutritionally diverse items — such as protein, fat and vegetables — this makes for a more balanced, satisfying meal, and you will have a lesser chance of overindulging. Conversely, if most of the items on your holiday plate are far too salty, fatty or sweet, your body will crave more nutrients, which can lead to overeating.

This season, empower yourself before the big meal by making your own dessert or side dish that is delicious and satisfying — and that you won’t feel sleepy and lethargic after eating. A tasty and healthy cooking style is not as hard as you might think.


How to Practice Balance in the Kitchen

The way to develop your own palate and understand flavor profiles is to literally start trusting your gut. If you’re a novice in the kitchen, you can begin your flavor journey by preparing a homemade salad dressing. To create a tasty dressing, you’ll need to balance the fat, salt, sugar and even tartness. If it’s too salty, add more sweetness. If it’s too sour, add more fat. If you crave more “punch,” simply increase the vinegar, garlic or mustard. You can tailor the dressing to your own preferences. After some practice, you will automatically learn to balance flavors in any type of sauce, soup or dish you make. You can get even more creative at that point — and get ready to “wow” everyone at the holiday meal.

The holiday recipes I have included here are balanced, tasty and easy to make. It’s my goal to help people like you create meaningful memories this year with loved ones — not stress out about what to prepare for a big meal or what to eat. Yes, you can make a holiday dish that is both healthy and a crowd-pleaser, believe it or not. You just need the right ingredients, some creativity and a dash of patience.


Healthy Holiday Recipes

Japanese Sweet Potatoes with Thyme Dijon Mustard Dressing

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


  • 2 large Japanese sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme or enough to taste


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place chopped sweet potatoes on a pan, and drizzle with olive oil and add the last 3 ingredients. Place sheet in oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden and fork tender.

Once potatoes are out of the oven, put on a serving platter. Sauce can be served on the side or drizzled on top.

For Mustard Dressing:

  • ⅔ cup dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons honey
  • ¼ cup fresh chopped parsley (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.


Rosemary Beet Punch (Nonalcoholic)

Yield: 1 pitcher of punch


  • 1 large beet (about 1 cup), peeled and quartered
  • 2 to four 7-inch long sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 cups filtered or spring water — enough to cover the rosemary and beets in pitcher
  • 2 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice from about 5 medium-sized oranges


Heat 4 cups of water to a boil. Place rosemary and chopped beet into a large glass pitcher. Pour hot water into the pitcher, and stir well. You can also add the rosemary and beets to the pot you are boiling water in. Cover mixture and let steep for 3 to 5 hours, or until almost room temperature.

Strain beet and rosemary water into another pitcher to remove the rosemary and beet pieces. Add orange juice and stir. Punch can be refrigerated for later or served immediately.


Spiced Chai & Orange Chia Seed Pudding

Yield: 6 servings


  • 1 cup chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of chai spice
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger or 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 cups whole milk (Coconut milk can also substitute.)
  • 5 pitted dates


Combine the first 5 ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Add 4 cups of milk and 5 dates into a blender. Blend until the dates are finely chopped.

Add the date milk into the mixing bowl with dry ingredients. Mix until all of the chia seeds are coated. Place the mixing bowl into the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours or overnight, until the pudding becomes a thick consistency.

Spoon chia pudding into serving dishes, and garnish with a dried orange slice or fresh orange slice.

For Chai Spice:

  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 6 teaspoons ground ginger

Mix together and store in a jar.


Written by: Esther Curry


Read Next: Eating Around Dietary Restrictions During the Holidays

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